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PUP litigating the Special Agreement in two high courts

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Apr. 15, 2019– The Opposition People’s United Party PUP), which convinced Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin to grant an interim injunction to halt the April 10 International Court of Justice (ICJ) referendum as a result of its constitutional challenge of the Special Agreement between Belize and Guatemala for submitting the Guatemalan claim to the ICJ, is fighting their claim in the two high courts of Belize, the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal.

Today was scheduled to be the first day of hearing of the substantive case before Chief Justice Benjamin. The case, however, had to be adjourned because the PUP’s lead counsel, Senator Eamon Courtenay, S.C., had requested an adjournment due to his commitment at the meeting of the Senate.

On Thursday, case management will begin in the Court of Appeal for the case.

Attorney Kareem Musa appeared in the Supreme Court on behalf of the six PUP claimants, five of whom are area representatives and one a standard bearer, while the government-appointed attorney, Lisa Shoman, S.C., appeared for the defendants. Shoman was armed with an application for discharging the interim injunction.

Both sides agreed to an adjournment to April 29.

After the adjournment, the parties spoke to reporters. Shoman told the media: “Today was originally scheduled for first hearing. Case management usually occurs at first hearing. Mr. Courtenay wrote a letter on Friday to ask for an adjournment. As you know, he is in the Senate, but he also indicated that he has filed a cross-appeal, which we just received this morning. And so, the Chief Justice has granted an adjournment for case management until April 29. And at that point, he will hear all matters, including our application to discharge the injunction.”

Shoman was asked to comment on the application to discharge the injunction.

“As you know, the injunction was placed on specific writs, and it enjoined the proposed referendum. Now, in the head note of the case, the proposed referendum has a date, April 10, 2019. So, what we’ve said to the court is that this is not an open-ended injunction. It was meant specifically to stop the holding of the April 10 referendum. That is not in question, or an issue any longer, and we therefore believe that the injunction should be discharged. So, he will hear us on the matter on April 29, 2019,”she said.

Shoman was also asked what role the referendum writ, which was the primary reason for the granting of the injunction, would play at the first hearing of the case.

She said that the writs that were given were date-specific “and were meant for specific writs.” “Those writs are no longer in existence right now … they are expired. That would be the heart of our contention,” she said.

Musa told reporters that the Chief Justice had made an injunction order, and there were two grounds on the basis of which they had submitted an application for it. One was that the Special Agreement was unconstitutional, and therefore, the referendum had to be stopped.

And the second ground, he said, was that the writ itself was defective, in that it did not fall under the requirements of the Referendum Act. The Chief Justice had ruled on the second limb, and granted the injunction based on that. And so, Musa said, the second issue, which is the constitutionality of the Special Agreement, is now currently before the Court of Appeal. “And we go there on Thursday to address the case management conference, moving forward on that point,” he said.

Musa was asked if the PUP had expected the government to file an application to discharge the injunction because of the new Bill it passed in the House of Representatives on Friday.

“Not at all,” Musa replied. ‘We hadn’t gotten any information from the government until this morning when I showed up at court. My Learned Senior, Ms. Shoman, indicated to me that they wanted to apply to discharge the current injunction that is in place.

“As you know, our clients are not required to be here today, so, I haven’t had an opportunity to consult with them to get their take, and also to consult with Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, because he is currently before the Senate. And so, the judge, quite rightly and properly, set that as a separate date, not to be heard today, but on the 29th of April,” said Musa.

Musa confirmed that the PUP will file a new claim against section 3 of the new Territorial Dispute Referendum law, which mentioned the Special Agreement, which, so far, has not been taken to the House of Representatives for the required debate and two thirds majority vote, since the Special Agreement would give power to the ICJ judges to adjust the borders of Belize, which is defined in Schedule 1 of Belize’s Constitution.

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